'All we can do is prepare to play': Twins staying ready despite Coronavirus shutting MLB down

Rocco Baldelli has always considered himself an optimist who tries to seek the positive in any situation.

The Minnesota Twins manager, now in his second season, is having that put to the test as Opening Day was supposed to be on Thursday. The Twins were supposed to start their defense of the 2019 American League Central Division title at Oakland, then at Seattle.

But Thursday passed, and there was no baseball as the Coronavirus pandemic has sports shut down all over the world. All 32 teams in Major League Baseball couldn’t even finish Spring Training, they were told nearly two weeks ago to shut down all operations and send players home until further notice.

Nelson Cruz and Taylor Rogers were optimistic earlier this week that there will be baseball at some point this summer, even if it means a condensed season. Baldelli said Thursday they’re preparing for any and all scenarios to be on the table. The team had talked nearly daily during Spring Training about Covid-19 and its effect on the world.

“I think the one thing that we know for sure is that as of right now, if we’re putting stock in anything or think that we know anything for certain, we’re probably wrong. That’s the type of mindset that everyone here has,” Baldelli said. “It’s not exciting to not be able to state expectations or specifics, but we have to be prepared for literally anything and we are. When it does play out, I guarantee that none of the situations that we’re foreseeing are going to play out exactly the way we’re expecting them to.”

Baldelli couldn’t help Thursday but reflect on what Opening Day means for him, bittersweet as it may be, and for many around baseball. It’s a one-day celebration of the game, and it will be again whenever that happens.

“I think it’s important for all of us to remember what Opening Day is and what it symbolizes. It’s a day that we all celebrate and a day to rejoice and a day that we’re all proud of. It’s a day to really think about things optimistically. I think every team in baseball thinks about things in that sense, it’s a day of optimism,” Baldelli said. Whenever it comes, that’s going to be an experience in and of itself.”

Baldelli and his staff keep in contact with players daily, anything from just checking in to having more meaningful conversations. No players or staff with the Twins or at any level of the organization have developed symptoms connected to Covid-19.

Pitching coach Wes Johnson might have the biggest task of all: Making sure his pitching staff is ready to go when the MLB calls to say “game on.”

“All we can do is prepare to play. Nobody knows when this thing or how it’s going to play out. We’re just taking the approach of let’s just say we’re going to play in a month. We’re just taking it literally a week at a time,” Johnson said.

Johnson keeps himself busy by reading books, watching film and staying in constant contact with his pitchers. Baldelli echoed that constant communication is helpful for everyone.

After adding free agent slugger Josh Donaldson in free agency, Baldelli was asked Thursday what his Opening Day lineup would be. He didn’t want to show his hand too early.

“You’re going to be waiting all early summer for the lineup, too still, until we find out when we’re going to be playing. I think I’m going to let that one drag out until the very end and hopefully everyone will enjoy it when it finally arrives,” Baldelli said.

Buxton appears ready to play

One thing that appears certain is that Byron Buxton will be playing center field for the Twins whenever Opening Day comes. Buxton battled a couple injuries last season, and missed the last month after having surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder.

Video posted to social media earlier this week showed him swinging a bat, while his wife threw him soft toss. Twins front office head Derek Falvey said Buxton was leaving Spring Training with the intent to play in games.

Baldelli said Buxton’s rehab could not have gone any smoother, and he would’ve been in the lineup card at the end of Spring Training if not for Coronavirus.

“It went extremely well, physically, mentally he’s in a tremendous spot. He’s home, his name was on our lineup sheet to get in there and start getting some innings in center field and some ABs in games just as we left camp,” Baldelli said.